After a debilitating accident in 2015 that left Becky Rush-Peet in a wheelchair, she did not know if she would ever walk long distances again.
Just two and a half years later, she completed a 62-mile pilgrimage of gratitude along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
On Dec. 23, 2015, Becky Rush-Peet was driving home from Crystal Mountain with her children when a tree fell on the hood of her car. She broke 19 bones, spent almost four months in the hospital, and was confined to a wheelchair when she returned home.
“It’s been a long road back,” Becky Rush-Peet said in a phone interview. “I’m so happy to be alive.”
One day, a month after returning home, she watched the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen, which told the story of a man who walked the Camino de Santiago after his son’s death. She was inspired to go on her own journey and walk 62 miles on the Camino de Santiago or “Way of St. James.” She wanted to have the experience of going on a pilgrimage in gratitude for being alive after her accident.
Historically, people walked the Camino de Santiago to show their Christian faith, and maybe even earn an indulgence from the Catholic Church. St. James is said to have been buried in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
Many people still find themselves making the pilgrimage for religious reasons.
A pilgrim, or “peregrino” can start anywhere on the Camino, but must complete 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, to be recognized as having completed the pilgrimage.
Before her accident, Rush-Peet had been an avid hiker and backpacker. She wanted to able to do those activities again, and she worked hard to recover and be able to walk long distances again.
She began by walking the length of her home’s porch and eventually was able to walk twice around Deep Lake.
Rush-Peet knew that if she could keep up a pace of 10-12 kilometers, or 6-7 miles per day she would be able to complete her 62-mile journey in 10 days.
Once she was ready, Rush-Peet traveled to France with her husband James, starting her journey on the “Camino Frances” in the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port on May 10. Her goal was to cross the Pyrenees mountains, no small feat.
The first day of walking was a struggle for Rush-Peet, who found that there were more hills than expected. By the end of the day, her ankle was swollen to twice its normal size and was painful to walk on.
But despite the pain and uneven terrain, she persisted and they made it to their lodging for the night.
“I don’t think I can go any further,” she said, walking into the hostel.
“Here. Take two of these and call me in the morning,” James joked, handing her a pack of Advil. She rested, elevated her foot, and applied an ice pack to the swollen ankle.
The next morning, the swelling had gone down and Rush-Peet felt better. With her husband now carrying the heavier items in his backpack, the going was much easier. Nine hours later, she crossed the Pyrenees, completing her goal. That night, she was able to attend a pilgrim’s mass in a local church.
Setting out from the town of Roncesvalles the next morning, they still had a long way to go.
The end goal was the Cathedral of Santiago, which was located in the town of Santiago de Campastela.
Rush-Peet was able to complete her daily goal by taking breaks every 2 hours. They walked through many rural, pastoral areas of Spain, and the scenery was beautiful, Rush-Peet said. Sometimes they would walk the same pace as others, but most of the time other peregrinos would pass them.
“I walked more slowly than somebody who’s never been injured. I decided my trail nickname was Tortuga, which translates to turtle,” Rush-Peet said.
On May 24, Rush-Peet completed her journey, and became emotional as she looked at the cathedral.
She was overcome with gratitude as she thought back on the journey she had made and her recovery from her accident just two and a half years before.
She had completed her 100 kilometer journey and received a certificate for completing the pilgrimage.
Later, she described it as a pilgrimage of gratitude.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It was an emotional high, huge feeling of accomplishment. I had been looking forward to this trip for two years.”